Renaldo's Christmas spirit

Sometimes he brings points to Tennessee's lineup. Sometimes he brings rebounds. Sometimes he brings both, sometimes neither. One thing he ALWAYS brings is a smile.

Renaldo Woolridge views basketball more as a blessing than a game. That attitude shows each time he takes the floor.

"I just get excited," the Vol sophomore said. "Ever since I was a kid my mom always joked that the second my name was called I'd run out there."

That hasn't changed. Now 19 years old and standing 6-feet, 9-inches tall, he still breaks into a sprint - and a smile - each time Vol coach Bruce Pearl sends him into a game.

"Whenever he says 'Renaldo,' I'm ready to go out and play," Woolridge said, flashing his signature grin. "It's a blessing to play college basketball. We're all like that but it takes on a new meaning for me, so I try to go out and bring energy."

He certainly brought it Wednesday night against North Carolina A&T, contributing 9 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and a block in 17 sterling relief minutes.

"I thought Renaldo Woolridge had one of his better games," Pearl said. "He was close to a double-double - 9 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, no turnovers - and he was involved with getting the ball inbounds, involved with breaking pressure."

Woolridge handles the ball and shoots the ball much better than most 6-9 guys. Those are two attributes that caught Pearl's eye when he began recruiting the California native a few years ago. Woolridge also has the hops, timing and good hands to be a dynamic rebounder.

"It's something I did well in high school and I feel comfortable with it," he said. "I have to just keep going after the ball strong when it comes off the rim and keep looking for it. I think that can be a big part of my role."

No doubt. That's why Pearl moved him from small forward to power forward this season.

"I think Renaldo is better at the 4 because Renaldo was a pretty high-end rebounder in high school," Pearl said. "He did two things very well - he shot the ball well for a big man from the perimeter and he rebounded well, even for his size. Both things have been inconsistent but big guys that can rebound and shoot ... you can find ways to use them."

Pearl found ways to use Woolridge in Games 1 and 2. The player responded by scoring 11 points in the former and 8 in the latter. Woolridge's minutes decreased dramatically thereafter, however. So, after scoring 19 points in the first two games, he managed just 8 points in the next eight games.

Though discouraged when his playing time was reduced to mop-up roles, he continued to work hard on the practice floor. That decision is paid huge dividends on Wednesday night.

"It's just what Coach is always preaching: Stay ready," he said. "I've been working hard, doing extra workouts before and after practice, getting extra shots in. If my number is called - something happens or he just needs me out there for extended minutes - I've got to be ready to contribute the way he wants me to."

Practice can be tedious and grueling when there's no promise of playing time attached to it. Woolridge struggled with that for weeks, then came to accept the reality that his minutes will be limited playing behind All-American Tyler Smith.

"I think that's a part of being a good teammate," Woolridge said. "It took me a little while to get that. Tyler and Wayne (Chism) are like big brothers to me, and they teach me different things. It's only fair to them and the rest of this team that I'm ready.

"That's why I put in the extra work ... so that if someone goes down or gets in foul trouble I will be ready. I think I owe that to the team and to myself."

Woolridge was a one-trick pony in 2008-09, attempting 76.7 percent of his field-goal tries (69 of 90) from 3-point range. This season, playing closer to the basket, he has attempted just 46.5 percent of his shots (13 of 28) from beyond the arc. Even Woolridge admits he's a better fit at power forward than he was at small forward.

"Definitely," he said. "I think Coach knows what he's doing with me. He knows my game, and he has a great plan for me. I'm just along for the ride."

Odds are, he'll be smiling throughout the ride. That tends to happen when you view basketball as a blessing and not a game.


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